Another day, another Fantasy Flight Arkham Files game.
If that sounds like I’m bored of their offerings, trust me – I’m not. I’m enough of Lovecraft and weird fiction fan that I’ll likely always be interested in a new way to experience Lovecraftian stories and horror. This is now Fantasy Flight’s fifth in-production Arkham Files game by my count. Despite all of these having been fantastic, surely Fantasy Flight must be running out of creative steam?
I hate to break it to Lovecraft gamers out there with wallets running low, but Fantasy Flight has done it again: Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a fantastic experience.
I had never played a Living Card Game, or LCG, Fantasy Flight’s name for deck-building card games that are designed around fixed distribution, rather than the random distribution model for games like Magic: The Gathering. I had casually played Magic: The Gathering briefly about a decade or more ago, but I was never that into it, so any memory of how these kinds of card games play disappeared my mind long ago. It took a bit of fiddling and fussing with the Learn to Play guide and the cards to get going, and more flipping to the Rules Reference than I’d like, but once everything gelled, it turns out the game is quite elegant and moves extremely fast, most likely the fastest Arkham Files game by far.
With one box, the game is designed for one to two players, and with a second box, player count can be expanded to four. If you’ve played a previous Arkham Files game, you’ll recognize the basic structure: each player takes their chosen character through an adventure consisting of a set of locations. At each location, they rush to solve the mystery by finding clues, using items, and fighting or evading monsters against impending doom. Given this is a fast playing card game, I assumed that Arkham Horror: The Card Game would be at the bottom of the barrel with regard to theme and storytelling, even when compared to the more casual friendly Elder Sign (particularly Elder Sign without any expansions), but it turns out that’s not true. Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a Frankenstein-like hybrid of card game and roleplaying game, and a very successful one at that – surprisingly, it’s near the top end of immersive and storytelling in Fantasy Flight’s roster.
Much like a traditional roleplaying game, a game of Arkham Horror:The Card Game is played over a series of scenarios that comprise a larger campaign. The base box contains Night of the Zealot which is a three scenario campaign to run characters through. Characters have stats, and each has a deck that represents abilities, items, and unique actions. Each scenario tells a chapter of the larger story by way of Act cards, Agenda cards, Locations, and Encounters. Basically, as turns progress, Doom is added to the Act cards – players try to finish the scenario before the Act cards progress to conclusion; as the Acts progress, generally things get worse until a final failure state. In order to complete a scenario successfully, players try to progress through Agenda cards by spending clues that they’ve discovered during their investigation of Locations. Clues are had and challenges are met through making a test against a characters ability and then drawing a random chaos chit from a bag or cup – basically eliminating any dice rolling, but keeping generative randomness.
I had a blast playing Arkham Horror: The Card Game, and I expect I’ll continue to do so for a long time to come. It hits the pulp adventure Lovecraft nerve with precision, it’s fast, fun, gorgeous, and has a long, bright future ahead of it with the coming campaign and mythos packs. This last bit is really my only complaint – this is a game that mostly lives and dies by it’s scenarios and campaigns, and despite branching outcomes, the three scenarios in the box might not be enough for some. If you get into using different characters, customizing their decks, and running them at adventures, you’ll be happy, but that might not be everyone. Everyone else will have to pony up for the expansions and card sets as they drop.
If you like Lovecraft and want a speedy, fun, Call of Cthulhu-esque experience that can be played just with a set of beautifully illustrated cards, grab a copy of Arkham Horror: The Card Game. I’d like to say that I’m happy Fantasy Flight once again delivered, but my wallet has a decidedly different opinion.
I loved this game, and it comes highly recommended.